DENVER – The Colorado Department of Education on Thursday announced seven finalists for the 2023 Colorado Teacher of the Year competition, with the sole finalist to be announced by the end of October.
Each year, the Colorado Teacher of the Year program recognizes an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled K-12 classroom teacher to represent the entire profession in Colorado. The sole finalist becomes Colorado’s nominee for the National Teacher of the Year competition.
“I am extremely excited about this talented and diverse group of educators representing the teaching profession in Colorado,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner. “We are truly grateful for all the time and intention they pour into their students, schools and communities. Our state will be proud to call any of them our 2023 Teacher of the Year. I wish each of them the best of luck and congratulate them on their journey so far.”
The Colorado Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by Denver 7. Award partners include the Colorado Education Association, Adams State University and Blue Bell Ice Cream.
The finalists for Colorado Teacher of the Year 2023 are:
East Middle School
Aurora Public Schools
Jimmy Lee Day II is the band director at East Middle School in Aurora, where he teaches sixth through eighth grade instrumental music. During his 13 years as an educator, Day has rebuilt three band programs in urban areas, including in Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee, where he lived before moving to Colorado.
Mountain View Core Knowledge School
Tobias DeHerrera is an energetic and enthusiastic educator with 20 years of teaching experience. He has taught first grade at Mountain View Core Knowledge School in Canon City for six years. DeHerrera began his career as a paraprofessional at Manassa Elementary School before starting his first teaching position at Washington/Peakview School in Walsenburg, where he has taught kindergarten for two years and first grade for 11 years.
San Juan School District 1
Whitney Gaskill teaches a combined class of fourth and fifth grade at Silverton School, where she recently completed her ninth year in the classroom. Gaskill has a particular passion for project-based and service learning. In 2021, her class won the United Launch Alliance’s Student Payload Competition for designing an Astronaut Art Pack to help space travelers with their mental health.
Vista Ridge High School
Theresa James teaches ninth through 12th grade in multiple social studies classes at Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs. James has been awarded the Boettcher Foundation Teacher Recognition Award in 2022, the 2012 Distinguished Teacher award from the National Council for Geographic Education and The Rotary Club of Colorado Springs Diamond Award in 2010. James prioritizes social emotional learning in her classes by incorporating service learning to emphasize the importance of community involvement.
Castle Rock Middle School
Douglas County School District
Rocio Meli teaches seventh and eighth grade Spanish and eighth grade English language development at Castle Rock Middle School. She also teaches a specialized class called InnoV8, in which students engage in the design-thinking process to give back to people in need. Meli is passionate about helping students become bilingual and learn to appreciate the cultures and values of people worldwide.
Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School
Poudre School District RE-1
Scott Wheeler is the choir and drama teacher at Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School in Fort Collins. A fifth generation Colorado native, Wheeler grew up in the district in which he has taught for 25 years. His Kinard choirs have performed at Colorado Rockies and Eagles games, the Colorado Senate chambers, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, the Windy City Choral Festival in Chicago and at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Wheeler has helped open two schools in his tenure as a music teacher, Traut Core Knowledge Elementary School in 1997 and Kinard Core Knowledge Junior High in 2005. In addition to teaching, Wheeler performs as a semi-professional musician, actor and narrator around the United States and in Europe as a singer and French hornist.
Green Valley Elementary
Denver Public Schools
Paulina Lerma was recently an English Language Acquisition – Spanish teacher at Green Valley Elementary in Denver. Lerma is a bilingual Latina leader committed to culturally responsive teaching and equitable practices. She builds strong relationships with students and families to develop students’ leadership capacities. Since applying and being considered for the 2023 Colorado Teacher of the Year, Lerma has accepted a position as the assistant principal at South High School in Denver Public Schools. Because she is no longer a full-time classroom teacher, Lerma is unable to be named the sole finalist for the award.